An account of the attack on Milltown cemetery, 29 years ago this week, carried out by loyalist serial killer Michael Stone.
On 16 March 1988, Vols. Danny McCann, Sean Savage and Mairead Farrell who were murdered by the SAS in Gibraltar, were due to be buried in Milltown Cemetery, West Belfast. In a change from normal security procedures, the RUC police and British Army had agreed to stay away from the funeral.
As the coffins were being lowered into the ground, a burst of gunfire was heard and this was initially mistaken for the usual firing party. Some people even applauded. However, it was not a salute. Michael Stone had infiltrated the crowd in an attempt to eliminate the Republican leadership with several grenades and two handguns, a 9mm semi-automatic pistol and a .357 revolver.
Stone killed three people: two Catholic civilians Thomas McErlean, and John Murray, and a Provisional IRA volunteer, Caoimhin Mac Bradaigh, who had attempted to disarm him. He injured over sixty, including a 10 year old boy who was shot in the back, a 72 year old grandmother and a pregnant mother of four who was wounded by shrapnel.
Stone made his escape towards the motorway, chased by several members of the crowd, but continued firing his handguns and throwing hand grenades at his pursuers. Stone was caught by the crowd, who began beating him and shouting that they would kill him. He was eventually put in the back of a car and was being driven away to be shot by the IRA, when the car was intercepted by the RUC, who arrested him and took him to hospital. Michael Stone later confessed to the three killings at Milltown and a further three paramilitary killings committed beforehand.
At his trial, Stone received sentences totalling 682 years, but was released after serving just 13 years as a result of the Good Friday Agreement.
In his autobiography, Stone admitted that he had received “special assistance” from RUC operatives in carrying out the cemetery attack. He later claimed he had renounced violence, but remained in the UDA, and in 2005 said he would fully support and take part in a campaign of violence if the UDA ended its ceasefire.
In November 2006, Stone was charged with the attempted murder of Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams, having been arrested attempting to enter the parliament buildings at Stormont while armed. Stone was subsequently convicted and sentenced to a further 16 years’ imprisonment.